Build a supportive and inclusive working and learning environment during Ramadan

The following article was authored by Moniba Nazeef, MD, assistant professor of medicine in our school and hematologist/oncologist with UW Health, and Shiva Bidar-Sielaff, MA, associate dean for diversity and equity transformation with SMPH and vice president/chief diversity officer with UW Health. The article focuses on ways to that a clinical health system, with its 24/7 operational activities, can be supportive and inclusive of Muslim learners, staff, and faculty who are fasting and engaging in other religious observances during the month-long Islamic tradition of Ramadan. As a school of medicine and public health with some areas and units that also have round-the-clock operations, we encourage reflection about practices that can be adapted to academic settings. In addition to the UW Health resources mentioned below, here are some campus resources at UW–Madison:

  • For information about reflection and prayer spaces on the UW–Madison campus, see a listing maintained by the campus Multicultural Center. Supervisors, program directors and building managers may be able to suggest additional locations suitable for reflection and prayer.
  • For information on 2022 Ramadan Meal Service offered by University Housing’s Dining and Culinary Services, visit this page. This meal service (as with all meal services) is open to the public; you do not have to be a resident of Housing or hold a meal plan to place an order.
  • For information on university policies about religious observations, see UWPPP Policy 16.05 – Religious Observances and UW-880 – Religious Observances (Academic).


Posted to UW Health U-Connect intranet on March 28, 2022: 

The Islamic tradition of Ramadan will be taking place this year from April 3 to May 3, 2022. Throughout the world, and here at UW Health, members within the Islamic faith will shift their attentions toward prayer, spiritual reflection, and charitable acts within the community. Fasting, or sawm, is a major observance of Ramadan, and participants will refrain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset each day during this month-long custom. Here in Wisconsin, the duration of fast will last between 13-14 hours. This practice, while difficult, is associated with significant mental well-being and overall physical benefits for the observers and most Muslims prefer to fast as long as their overall health allows.

Families will typically be up around 4am or earlier, depending on what time the sun rises in the region, to prepare and eat the pre-dawn meal that will last them all the way till dinner time. The daily breaking of the fast (Iftar) is an important and joyous communal activity with family and friends. Most people will participate in additional religious gatherings or prayer sessions at night. This means that many will see their sleep disrupted for the month, which could affect their attention and focus at work during the day. It can be challenging for medical residents, trainees, and even faculty members, when they are busy with the day-to-day functions of providing excellent patient care. Providers who are working on call and working late shifts are likely to miss Iftar with family and that can be particularly tough for them if they are working late hours on stretch.

Fasting during COVID-19 presents some additional challenges, such as fasting while in full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), dehydration and longer shifts. PPE which includes the N95 mask or powered air respirators can result in dehydration and heat stress due to the necessarily tight fit around the face and extensive periods for which it is likely to be worn for compared with normal surgical masks.

Build a supportive and inclusive workplace during Ramadan

It is important that leaders build a supportive and inclusive environment for employees who are observing the month. Leaders should raise awareness around the topic on behalf of Muslim providers and staff to help team members understand their co-workers better. It will help ensure that fasting employees feel supported and team members remain understanding. If operational needs allow it, some ways leaders can support their staff are:

  • Work hour flexibility
  • Allow meal breaks at different times, for example lunch breaks at dusk to coincide with breaking the fast
  • Allowing time off to pray, especially at sunset.
  • Hold meetings and trainings in the mornings.
  • Ramadan concludes with the community celebration, Eid-ul-Fitr. which falls on May 2 and 3 this year depending on the moonsighting. If possible, please accommodate request for time off for Eid-ul-Fitr.

For our Muslim Providers and Staff at UW Health

  • We have a number of designated quiet spaces available throughout UW Health.
  • More specifically, The American Family Children’s Hospital Prayer Room located on the First Floor, next to the Safety Center as well as The American Center/East Madison Hospital Meditation Room are non-denominational spaces that you can use as a prayer room.
  • Snack and meals:
    • Starting at 5pm daily during the month of Ramadan, water, dates and energy bars will be provided at American Family Children’s Hospital in the open space adjacent to the AFCH prayer room (this is the space that has the Memorial Union chairs and tables) and in the OR Staff Lounge at The American Center/East Madison Hospital.
    • On May 2 and May 3, we will be providing a halal boxed meal to help you celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr. Please sign up here for a meal.

Ramadan Mubarak. Happy Ramadan.